Just like I did with the last Ghosted book, Something Rotten, I’m going to offer you an insight into the development process of the next story in the series as I write it.
Today I’ll be pulling back the curtain and showing you a first draft, opening snippet of the new Ghosted book, Twice Damned, which is due out on August 3rd (you can pre-order it here if you like).
Remember, this is raw, unedited word salad that has yet to feel the steely gaze of an editor, so don’t read it expecting perfection. I offer it as a taster, hopefully one that doesn’t ruin your main course and give you a dose of explosive diarrhea. Bon appétit!
Twice Damned, an unedited excerpt
Camden Town can’t die, it’s already been dead for years. I don’t care how many craft breweries, or yoga studios, or artisanal coffee shops they paint over this place, they’re putting makeup on a corpse. They can gussy it up all they like, but it’s a lost cause. Camden is rotten. A leaky, bloated carcass that should have been put in the ground a long time ago. You can call me a pessimist if you like, you can fold your arms and tell me I’m seeing my surroundings through dirty glasses, but I see Camden for what it really is. I have to, it’s my job. Picking the scabs off of this town’s dirty secrets is what I do.
Twilight stole away the day’s colours until the world looked like an old black and white movie. Only once the curtain of night had dropped completely did I make my way to Camden Cemetery. I passed through the graveyard’s spiked black gates and beneath a couple of sycamore trees to cut across the neat lawn of the memorial garden. Rows of tombstones stood left and right of me, some hundreds of years old, others smooth as bathroom tiles and inscribed with fresh etchings, black and crisp. I joined a gravel path leading to a nondescript, stone-clad building and made my way inside.
A corridor stretched out before me, thick with darkness. I heard a steady drip-drop of water, and when my eyes adjusted to the gloom I saw its source, rain water, piddling through the ceiling into a parked janitor’s bucket. The concrete walls were slick with black mould that looked as though it might, at any given moment, evolve into a higher life form.
I spotted a rusted gas pipe running along the corridor’s right-hand wall and followed it quietly, deeper into the building, then down a flight of stairs and into the basement. The pipe led to a sooty, low-ceilinged room no bigger than a snooker table. On the far wall was an arched hatch enclosed by a sturdy iron door and a brick surround.
The crematorium furnace.
Lifting a heavy latch from its receiver, I tugged open the furnace door. I’d only pulled it an inch wide when it squealed noisily on its hinges, sending a sound like a wounded animal echoing through the building. I span about, checking to make sure I hadn’t alerted anyone to my presence, and only once a minute had passed did I return to the job at hand.
I flung the furnace door open in one swift action and instinctively pulled back from the hot blast that sprung from within. The oven blazed like a tiny sun, roaring boisterously and throwing long shadows about the small room. I glanced over my shoulder again to make sure I was alone, then I went to work.
Using the hooked end of a nearby metal poker, I dug around the fire, scraping aside ashes and fragments of blackened bone. As I rooted deeper, the hook snagged on something caught in the far end of the oven’s grill, and I carefully lifted it free, fishing it out from the hungry flames.
A scrap of charred white cotton decorated with small pink hearts.
I’d rescued a fragment of women’s underwear. Evidence yet to be disposed of.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ demanded a gruff voice behind me.
I turned to see a brawny janitor with a wooden rounders bat in his fist. He was tall; so tall he had to tilt his head to stop the room’s ceiling from giving him a bald patch.
I cleared my throat. ‘You’re working late,’ I said.
‘You’re trespassing,’ he barked. ‘This is private property.’
I stood up and straightened the lapels of my crisp black suit. ‘Private, is it?’ I asked. ‘Like this?’ I held up the poker, presenting the janitor with the scrap of singed underwear. A tic played on the corner of his mouth. ‘You’ve been a naughty boy,’ I tutted. ‘A very naughty boy.’
His eyes flicked involuntarily to the furnace, then back to me, sizing me up. ‘You ain’t with the nick, are you?’ he said, noting my evening suit and my distinct lack of a badge.
‘No, I’m not,’ I replied.
‘Then why d’you break in here?’ he asked, squeezing the rounders bat in his meaty paw. ‘Sniffing around for a dead body to play with, eh, ya pervert?’
I didn’t appreciate the insinuation. The charge he was levelling at me was what’s technically known as “gross abuse of a corpse” (though really, any abuse of a corpse is by definition pretty icky).
I narrowed my eyes at the janitor. ‘I’m here on behalf of the woman this belonged to,’ I replied, showing him the scrap of blackened fabric clinging to the end of the poker.
‘And what makes you think I’d know anything about that?’
I shot him a hard stare. ‘Because she told me you killed her,’ I explained.
The janitor’s nostrils flared. ‘So, you were having a conversation with a dead woman, is that it?’
‘Spot on,’ I replied.
The janitor offered a self-satisfied smile. I wasn’t a threat to him, I was just a harmless nutcase who’d wandered into his territory and overstepped his mark by a country mile. ‘If I were you, I’d wanna get going, mate,’ he said. ‘Or do I have to crack you one with this?’
He slapped the stout wooden bat in his palm. I looked him up and down. He was a big lad—a proper unit—and going by the muscles I could see bulging underneath the dungarees he was wearing, he could handle himself in a fight. He’d wipe the floor with me if it came to that, I was certain of it.
I lowered my head and slowly set the poker back down by the mouth of the roaring furnace.
‘Yeah, I thought so,’ the janitor chuckled.
He stepped aside to let me past, staring me down as I went to squeeze by his burly frame. I was a couple of steps on my way to the stairs when I stopped and held up a finger. ‘Just one thing before I go,’ I said, Columbo style. ‘I get that you lured her into your home. I get that you strangled her to death with your bare hands and dragged her body to the bathtub so you could dismember her with an electric kitchen knife. Tell me this though; why did you cook her brain in a frying pan?’
The janitor rocked back on his heels, eyes agog, gums flapping soundlessly.
‘I mean, I know supermarket prices have been on the up since Brexit,’ I said, ‘but you can still get a kilo of roasting pork for less than a fiver at Tesco.’
He finally found his voice. ‘How do you know all that?’ he asked. ‘How?’
‘You said it yourself,’ I explained. ‘A dead woman told me.’
A satanic grin transformed his face. ‘Right,’ he replied, ‘then I suppose she told you about this too?’
He unhooked the straps of his dungarees, pulled them down to his waist and whipped open his shirt. A cluster of rubbery black tentacles sprung from inside, dancing before him and oozing a gelatinous goo from their numerous rows of suction cups.
My eyes widened. ‘As a matter of fact,’ I said, ‘she did not mention that.’
This thing was no janitor. This was something else, a creature born of another realm, a monster dressed in a human suit. The woman I was working for—the woman this thing had murdered—had failed to inform me that her killer was something out of a Lovecraft novel, but then standing by as a spectre while you watch your remains getting chopped to bits has a habit of fuzzying the old grey matter.
The janitor/Cthulhu monster opened his mouth and screamed like two foxes fucking in a blender. ‘I’ll harvest your soul!’ he shrieked as he came charging towards me, tentacles questing from his torso and making for my throat.
It all happened so fast.
I didn’t have time to snatch up the poker.
I didn’t have time to get out of the way.
I didn’t even have time to say, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you, mate,’ before the hellspawn janitor pounced—
—only to pass right through me and into his own furnace.
The creature went up like a box of matches, thrashing and wailing inside the white-hot oven. The scream he made was unbelievable; pure murder on the ear drums. The bloke was doing my head in, so I blotted out his racket by bumming the furnace door shut like I was closing a stubborn car door.
And that was the end of that little escapade.
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